To our friends and neighbors from the Yosemite West Homeowners Association: As many of you may have heard, the National Park Service is in the process of evaluating the suitability of a site near Yosemite West for the possible future location of a Yosemite Institute (YI) Environmental Education Campus (the site is informally referred to as “The Sandlot” due to its recent use as a road sand storage area). Attached is a fact sheet explaining the basics of the project, and below you will find answers to some questions that might be of particular interest to local residents. At this early information-gathering stage the Park Service welcomes your input and will make every attempt to address your concerns to help inform and guide the analysis. Questions and Answers on the proposed Environmental Education Center project at “The Sandlot” At what stage of planning and design is the Environmental Education Campus project? This project is still in the planning and environmental evaluation stage of development. Currently, data are being collected at both the Sandlot and Crane Flat that will be analyzed in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Although the formal public scoping/comment period has closed, the public can still provide any comments or concerns throughout this planning stage, in public meetings, at our open houses or through our website, and formal comments will again be welcomed when the next Draft EIS is released in early 2008. Where would the Environmental Education Campus be located if this site is selected? The facility would likely be located fairly close to the Wawona Road (Hwy 41) intersection, on the south side of the entrance road to Yosemite West. The campus would ideally be nestled in the flat area which has a natural screening buffer of knolls and rocky outcrops. While the total area of the park site is about 31 acres, buildings and facilities would be centralized on the more-buildable (flat) area (about 17 acres), with the remainder serving as a buffer between the campus, the community, and the roads. Preliminary site designs will also be available for public review in the Draft EIS. Is there enough water to support such a facility? Will it impact our water supply? Hydrologic studies are currently underway to determine whether there is adequate water available to support a campus. The well for the potential Education Center would draw from a source different from Yosemite West’s wells, and is therefore not anticipated to affect the community’s water supply. A test well and surface flows will be monitored closely this fall, to ensure there is not an unacceptable level of impact to any surrounding water supplies. If successful, the well could also become a new long-term water source for the Chinquapin area as well as other support services, such as fire protection. The water study is expected to be completed this winter. We will update you as soon as the testing and monitoring results are available. Update 10/30: Water was found this week at the drill site. In response to community requests, the NPS is working with Mariposa County to ensure minimal impacts to Yosemite West wells through subsequent tests. We will keep you posted as more information is available. If the Environmental Education Center is built at “The Sandlot,” would it mean students and parents wandering around our neighborhood? No. This is not desirable or acceptable to either the National Park Service or to Yosemite Institute. A goal of the campus project is to provide a rich educational experience for children in a remote outdoor setting. Their students―primarily 7th and 8th graders―are closely supervised and managed at all times, and would not be permitted to wander off campus. The entrance to the facility would precede the Yosemite West neighborhood, so that buses and students would not be entering or passing through residential areas. The facility would be centrally focused, and designed in such a way so that to the greatest extent possible students may not even be aware that a neighborhood exists nearby. Outdoor activities would either be directed onto established trails that minimize the exposure to interaction with development in Yosemite West, or the students would be shuttled by bus to other locations in the park. Additionally, students would not be dropped off and picked up in numerous private vehicles (only parents acting as chaperones for the group will be present), but would instead arrive by a bus that goes straight to the facility, entering near the Yosemite West / Wawona Road intersection. Because YI programs currently run primarily during the school year, the campus would have little activity during peak summer season for most Yosemite West homeowners and business operators. How will this impact us in the event of a fire evacuation? Safety, emergency access, and fire egress were high on the list of criteria for site evaluations. Yosemite West residents’ concerns are also being heard and taken into serious consideration. An area fire emergency plan would be developed that would provide for safe and efficient community and campus evacuation, including a second emergency route that would exit directly from the campus onto Wawona Road. What other alternatives are being considered? How was the selection determined? The Sandlot is one of eleven sites that were evaluated for location of the campus, including some sites outside the park: o Crane Flat o Foresta o Grouse Creek o Hazel Green o Hodgdon Meadow Woodyard o McCauley Ranch o Ransom Ranch o Henness Ridge (“Sandlot”) o Wawona North o Wawona South o Upper Henness Ridge This spring, a representative group of park and Yosemite Institute staff held an alternatives workshop and used a decision-making process called “Choosing by Advantage” to evaluate and rank each site against more than 60 criteria. Sites were evaluated to ensure that placement of a campus there would o Not Conflict with Laws, Park Policies, or Plans o Provide Educational Opportunities for Students o Protect, Maintain, or Improve Cultural & Natural Resources o Provide Visitor Services, and Educational & Recreational Opportunities o Protect Public and Employee Safety, Health & Welfare o Improve Operational Efficiency & Sustainability o Provide other/additional Advantages to the National Parks The Sandlot site scored the strongest of all the potential sites for several reasons. Some of these include the educational potential of the site, with its existing network of nearby trails and destinations and its seasonal changes (snow). The site provides an appropriate forested “wilderness” setting, distant from other developed areas. The site has easy access, with existing roads and short bussing distances to destinations such as Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and Wawona. The site is previously disturbed (not pristine), and the terrain offers sufficient buildable ground. And, although we are still gathering resource data for the site, preliminary information indicates the site does not have sensitive resources that might be negatively impacted by a campus. All three sites at Henness Ridge (the Sandlot, Upper Henness Ridge and Ransom Ranch) ranked high for accessibility to park activity sites, and opportunities for varied seasonal activities (with snow). However, the two other Henness Ridge sites ranked poorly for lack of buildable area, their access directly through or adjacent to the Yosemite West community, need to upgrade primary road access, and no secondary emergency exit (requiring that an additional road be built.) There were a variety of factors contributing to the other sites not rating as highly. Such factors included nonconformance with existing park plans, lack of nearby educational opportunities, amount of bussing required, lack of existing roads and buildable area, possible impacts to sensitive natural or cultural resources, whether the site was previously disturbed or was pristine, and lack of wilderness character.
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